He's Not Who They Thought He Was

By Alen Dumonjic
October 2, 2012

Seattle was willing to gamble on Bruce Irvin's future rather than worry about his past.

Before April’s NFL Draft, former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick wrote a series of ironic articles at NFL.com detailing what to look for and how to effectively evaluate quarterbacks. Part 1 was fittingly titled “Nobody knows anything,” implying that no matter how much research and game film one watches, there’s uncertainty how he will play in the NFL.

Billick might as well have been talking about Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin when he wrote it because nobody knew what to expect from him on or off the field.

Irvin was the second of three defensive linemen in successive selections, all of which had question marks but none topped his.

It was discovered before the draft that he had a series of character issues that were deemed “red flags” by NFL teams. This wasn’t the kind of “diva” red flag that was attached to the likes of Terrell Owens in the past.  Instead, these were serious RED flags that featured juvenile crimes of felony burglary and concealed weapon charges. This issue was considered serious, but it was not the extent of Irvin’s pre-draft considerations. Irvin also sold drugs from a trap-house and was a high school dropout.

After being convinced to leave his dangerous life, Irvin enrolled into junior college to play football before earning a football scholarship to West Virginia, a school that has a history of taking chances on troubled characters.  At West Virginia, Irvin compiled 22 sacks in the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense and excited many people with his potential. 

One of people he excited most was a West Virginia scout that I met while (very) briefly coaching high school ball in Florida.  The scout briefly discussed the usage of Irvin and his speed off the edge which was a strength of Irvin’s in college and was the only true move he had.  Irvin didn’t appear to get much coaching in JUCO instead relying on his natural talent and short frame (6’2” 245 lbs.) to get by tree sized offensive tackles. There was something else to his talent that went unnoticed, however.

More Than Just A Speed Rusher

While scouting Irvin before the draft, I couldn’t help but notice the strong hands he possessed. He jolted blockers at the point of attack after sharply cutting off his speed rush and attacking the inside shoulder of offensive tackles. This was also the case on Monday Night Football against Green Bay Packers quality right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who he beat twice for sacks.

Irvin’s first sack stood out the most and it came on 3rd and 10 yards to go early in the first quarter. With the ball on the +49 yard line, the Packers had a 5 man protection against the Seahawks 3 rushers. Irvin was lined up at left end, across the outside shoulder of Bulaga at the 5 technique and ready for a mano-a-mano clash.

At the snap, he exploded forward from the line of scrimmage and forced Bulaga to abandon his kick-slide, instead rapidly sliding his feet to the outside to account for  Irvin’s speed. With the blocker sliding his feet and unbalanced, Irvin seized the opportunity to suddenly stop, stick his right arm into Bulaga’s face and use it as a catapult towards the inside in the direction of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Bulaga attempted to hang on for dear life after he was beaten to the inside, but it was too late - Irvin wrapped his arms around Rodgers for his first, full career sack.

It was only one play and I’m not reading much into it, but did you see how his speed forced the blocker wide and created an open path to the inside? That’s why the Seahawks selected him in the first round and that‘s why he could be productive in the pros despite having question marks all over.

Irvin is currently being used as a third down specialist in Seattle's 4-3 Under scheme and the Seahawks hope he’ll become a special pass rusher at the “Leo” position in due time.  The backside of the formation is where the “Leo” resides in Pete Carroll’s scheme which places him away from the strength of the formation and making him a C gap defender.  In so doing, Irvin is allowed  to concentrate on getting after the quarterback.

With coaching, Irvin could prove to his doubters that they were the ones reaching when they labeled him a reach in April.